How to Approach Character Design


Work by Gavin Goulden. (, 2017).

Although I am not designing my own character, I found this really interesting article about character design by Gavin Goulden, a lead character artist at Insomniac Games, working as lead on games including Sunset Overdrive, Bioshock Infinite, and worked on titles such as Dead rising 2, The Bigs 2, Damnation, FEAR 2, Dragon Age Origins, etc.

When the game industry began to decline in Vancouver, Goulden joined Irrational Games to be the character lead on Bioshock Infinite. Goulden says this totally shaped his mode approaching design for games changing his process on making art for game. He says the experience taught him how to tell a story, what story that individual asset tells, and how everything fits into the world.

Things to consider for gaming characters;

On a technical level, you need to consider the scale of the character, how sculpted information will bake down onto a texture, the posing of the character and how it will deform once it has been converted to a game mesh, and how a character will read once in the game camera versus the Zbrush viewport.  (, 2017).


It is important to consider how a character will move and deform in the game. The pose of the character, the angle of the limbs and how the points of articulation are defined will greatly effect the outcome of cleaner joint deformations during animation.Moving all joints in a neutral position allow for movement in both directions. When creating the low resolution version of your model, there will be edge loops lining the joints that squash and pull the faces in between them. The more compressed these loops become, the more distorted the geometry will become once the underlying bones are moving in the opposite direction.


Goulden has a more organic flow in work. Originally he went for a path like so-  base model in Max, then sculpting in Zbrush, then low poly, bakes, textures. Now he changes it up, starting in Zbrush to define bigger shapes to focus on how it will read in a game. Once something is created that he is happier with, he then moves into more details and refining the sculpt itself.


Texturing has changed over the years due to a process known as physical based rendering (PBR) which requires consistency throughout the project for specular, gloss, and albedo values. Beyond the much needed consistency in a project using PBR, the process of painting materials in an application (defining metals, cloths, wood, etc.) versus manually creating these materials in individual textures is a huge time saver.

My process basically involves creating a material ID map on my high resolution model through polypaint in ZBrush (for example: red equals skin, yellow equals gold, green equals leather, etc.) and bake that information out as a color map to be used in Substance. Taking this ID map, I assign the basic materials which I had defined earlier and begin working in layers of detail. Considering the story this character has to tell can determine which type of information gets added. What environment the character belongs in, the character’s age, if they have seen battle, etc. Based on this information, extra detail can be as simple as a bunch of scratches, or a very involved layer of damage and rust.- Gouldans process.


Dressing your character in a certain way is very important as the choice you make for the garment reflects the type of choice your fictional character would make. They exist in a world and, although completely made up, wake up every morning and make a choice about what to throw on their bodies, and the range of possibilities are endless. A more shady character can conceal their identity, a proud noble has clothing made of expensive materials, a brute has battle worn armor, and a post apocalyptic survivor wears whatever they can find – even items that aren’t normally clothing. This enhances the appeal of the character as it tells a story within itself, it ties the character into the world, and generally shows that the character itself has a thought process – it gives more purpose to the character when their clothing is rationally thought out and plays into their function within the game.

References (2017). How to Approach Character Design?. [online] Available at: [Accessed 10 Feb. 2017].



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